The Connected Devices and IoT revolution continues apace, significantly affecting the way we interact with our working environment. The ease at which it is possible to switch on ‘creativity’ isn’t always available to everybody though. Some people love being able to service their clients from home, they dedicate their billable hours without having had to make the commute to their desk while others hate the lack of structure. They relish having to get up, turn up and get on, they need the face to face and the absence of home distractions to be able to deliver. It’s all just different strokes for different folks. But what if upon getting to work you find your creativity pops like a balloon on the point of a pin?
With the inexorable rise of the design led vanity office, one thing we have seen is that the open plan office, rather than being a collaborative, creative space is exactly the opposite. The idea is that you can just pop your head up and instantly produce a creative dialectic with the other people on your pod. You just have to look around and see what other people are working on and get inspired yourself. Of course the reality is we put our earbuds in in order to block out the distracting hubbub of chatter coming from all corners. Our shoulders are up around our ears as colleagues and managers peep over them silently appraising what we’re doing, and then there’s the near constant rounds of tea to be made. Nobody needs that much tea, it’s just a reason for people to bunk off while pretending to be productive or a huge hassle to remember a dozen different favourite mugs when you’re trying to do something important.
In a 2017 survey, furniture manufacturer Steelcase found that only 13% of workers worldwide ‘highly satisfied’ with their workspace while Microsoft discovered 41% of people blame uninspiring workspaces for their lack of creativity. Now, it’s easy to state “only a bad worker blames their tools, or working environment” but when your work depends on coming up with innovative ideas time and time again, being surrounded by four blank walls and colleagues talking too loudly on the phone or moving about chatting to one another really makes it hard to think.
So boring office spaces are out, open plan offices offer too much distraction, and individual cubicles and corner offices destroy creativity and the team ethic, so what’s the answer?
The fact is that ‘teamwork’ doesn’t rely on as much collaboration as you might think. Yes everybody needs to have a clear idea of their task in the overall, who is handling other aspects and how far along the process everybody is, but that doesn’t mean that people need constant monitoring and additional input from those around them. People like bite sized achievable chunks, something they know they can achieve in a day or a week and then see how it fits into the bigger picture. Simply giving people the broad overview and telling them to get on with it, and then micromanaging them is no help whatever. Giving people responsibility and autonomy works.
Then what is one to do? If you’re the sort of person who finds it difficult to do your best work at home because of everyday distractions, but work is equally full of distractions too, how do you define a space which is suitable for you to deliver excellence as standard?
If you’ve recently had your workspace remodelled based on the kind of space where Google and Microsoft do their business you’re likely to be loathe to throw up partitions separating the space that a designer spent so long and so much of your money creating. But if you’re going to thrive in a space it shouldn’t be up to you to adapt to fit in, allowing form to command function. Rather, the space should be adaptable, allowing people to work alone, in pairs, small groups or in crowds depending on the goal of the day, not the overarching office policy. The space should feel like it concurrently ‘belongs’ to those who are in it, but also reflect that it is a place where people come to meet and work together under the auspices of one company or brand.
Technology, especially smart technology, can play a key role in converting a dysfunctional space into one where humans can create freely.
Before we start looking at the ways IT can make distant and remote collaboration easier, lets look first of all at lighting. The brain responds in many ways to different colours and brightness of lighting. Lighting one corner of an open space a cool blue will mark that area as a ‘morning’ space; time spent in it will produce cortisol from the adrenal cortex. This means that ideas will come thick and fast. Once a tranche of sketchy ideas has been formed, turn the lights down to a yellower tone, the slightly more relaxed light makes it possible to concentrate on sifting those ideas into credible, realistic, and doable propositions. Finally a redder light produces melatonin, the drowsy hormone. Historically many ideas have clarified in dreamlike or semi-dreamlike states, from the sewing machine to the theory of General Relativity and even the very notion of the Scientific Method itself, these ideas all came from the inventors’ dreams.
In terms of IT, most offices have WiFi now, and getting up and taking a laptop with you is standard. Videoconferencing with people in other offices throughout the country and abroad is nothing new. Nor is sharing documents instantly through DropBox or Skype, but maybe just because we have the capacity to be ‘always on’ and under pressure to be available to instantly respond doesn’t mean we should. Does anyone really need a Monday morning meeting on a rainy February when the trains aren’t running properly, you’ve got deadlines and a whole slew of emails bumping around in your inbox which all need answering immediately?
If you want your team to be creative, use technology wisely, not simply because it’s there.
For millennia creativity was predicated on paper, pens, glue, pencils, fabric and pins, and it’s only in the past 30 years that the ability to be creative at work depended on electricity and broadband to be able to put down ideas and send them to other people. Finessing an idea took time and it was during that time that glitches, design faults and errors were identified and solved. The pressure to get as many ideas as possible together, present them all to a client or customer all in the hope that you’ll get constructive, helpful feedback destroys real creativity. In the rush to present them with as many options as possible it’s easy to overlook the real gem, instead focusing only on the cheapest, easiest, least controversial idea.
If you’re planning a remodel or you’re designing an office interior and you’re looking for ideas look beyond whatever is the latest in cool, funky and instead plan for the people who are going to be inhabiting the space, not just the vanity of the people who are paying for it. Plan for ever increasing use of IT and Smart technology, but don’t let it dictate the form, rather look for ways that it can be available intuitively and seamlessly. Create quite spaces where people can go with a notepad and pen and just think, either alone or in a huddle where they won’t be disturbed by phone calls, TVs or any other kind of intrusive stimulus. If distance makes the heart grow fonder, then absence lets the mind go wander.